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April 18, 2005

What Adobe is buying

According to Macromedia chief software architect Kevin Lynch, the combination of Adobe Systems and Macromedia makes more sense today than it would have five years ago.

By CBR Staff Writer

There used to be a lot more overlap between the products, said Lynch, who will continue in that capacity once the merger is consummated.

The obvious area of competition has been in web authoring, where both companies have major presence. But, as Lynch maintained, both companies have been recently attacking the same market – content creation – from different angles.

Adobe, whose PDF format has become a de facto standard for print versions of web documents, has focused more on document publishing while Macromedia has been targeting interactive content development.

In large part, credit that to Macromedia’s previous acquisition of Allaire, whose ColdFusion product was one of the web’s first – and most popular – application platforms. Using a deceptively simple programming and scripting language, ColdFusion gained huge presence, especially with the department-level websites that emerged in most companies before corporate assumed control.

As popular as it was, ColdFusion never became a de facto standard. So when J2EE emerged, the company was weighed down by a large grassroots installed base. Consequently, its J2EE offering became a well-intentioned footnote to history.

Similarly, the early and continued success of Macromedia’s Flash runtime has also proven bane and benefit. On the bright side, it is the most popular plug-in for adding special effects to Microsoft IE browsers.

However, the perception that Flash is just about silly animations has masked its true potential as a platform for developing a rich internet client. Recently, Macromedia has tried taking Flash upscale with Flex, a fuller bodied rich web client that is based on familiar technology, but appealing to a different enterprise audience.

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For now, Microsoft is still bundling the next-to-most-recent version of Flash (the one that does not support Flex) with Windows XP, preserving Flash’s killer presence on the web browser client. But with Longhorn, Microsoft has plans of its own.

Avalon, the UI component of Longhorn, is supposed to deliver the long-awaited grand unification of all things visual, from text boxes to images and documents, so they can all be equally searchable. The problem is, it’s awfully ambitious and it relies on an untested, proprietary XML-based language called XAML.

Although Microsoft has been extremely successful in cultivating developers, the sheer mass of its market has also limited the pace of innovation (sound familiar?). Only this year is Microsoft finally starting to wean stubborn VB developers off of the pre-.NET version 6, and it still faces an uphill battle.

Of course, whether the rich internet client is as inevitable as everybody says it is, is still debatable. Regardless, when Adobe consummates the Macromedia acquisition, it will not only gain a company that is almost complementary, it will bulk itself up in browser client real estate to the point of providing Microsoft the stiff competition it needs.

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